FOUNDATION S2 Review: Thoughtful Eye Candy, Galvanized By Numbers

Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Lou Llobell and Leah Harvey star in the sci-fi series, debuting globally on Apple TV+.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
FOUNDATION S2 Review: Thoughtful Eye Candy, Galvanized By Numbers

Mathematics in action.

The second season debuts globally Friday, July 14, 2023, on Apple TV+, with its first episode. Subsequent episodes will debut every Friday through September 15. I've seen all 10 episodes.

Glorious eye candy bejewels the first handful of episodes in the second season of Foundation, adorning narrative percolations that perk slowly, before the narrative threads start to tighten up and then, oh boy, do they ever!

The second season picks up more than a century after events in the first season concluded. Master mathematician Hari Seldon (Jared Harris), the creator of the predictive psycho-history, together with his prize pupil Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) and her same-aged daughter Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) -- it's a long story, but it involves the hazards of time travel -- work together to ensure the survival of the universe.

In the first season, Hari established The Foundation, meant to ensure that future events foretold by psycho-history take place as predicted by Hari, seeking to diminish the length of the barbaric times that would inevitably follow the fall of the galaxy-spanning Empire, ruled by Cleon the 17th (Lee Pace). The Empire seeks to destroy The Foundation in order to ensure its own survival.

Co-creator David S. Goyer, together with a collection of experienced writers and producers, redrew the boundaries of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of books, which were big on talking and thinking, but not so much on action. The first three books were tremendously appealing to me for their clever logic when I was introduced to them in the early 1970s. Even then, the stories, first published in the 1940s were already showing their age and the writer's own youthful inexperience in life. (Asimov was born in 1920.)

Showrunner Goyer and his team, including Alex Graves, Jane Espenson, and Liz Phang, have refreshed the stories in order to emphasize diversity and inclusion, which works to its advantage. All the characters are much more action-oriented than they were in the books, and now tend to act first, think later, if at all. It's a big pill to swallow for anyone in love with the books; oftentimes, the series feels more like a science-fiction equivalent to Game of Thrones, with its endless crises, shifting loyalties, and ceaseless spilling of blood.

When I watched and reviewed the first season in September 2021, I was a bit taken aback by all the changes to what I felt was the basic tenor of the book, which was basically: 'The smart kids win! You better do your homework!' With the first season under my belt for some time now, and having the advantage of watching all the episodes of the second season in advance, I can more readily understand why Goyer and company made the changes that they did.

The protagonists remain Hari, Gaal, and Salvor, and the actors (Jared Harris, Lou Llobell, Leah Harvey) remain rock steady in their characterizations, finding new flavors to add to their personalities. On their side, as it were, they are joined this season by the religiously-inclined and energetic Brother Constant (Isabella Laughland) and Poly Verisof (Kulvinder Ghir), as well as crafty trader Hober Mallow (Dimitri Leonidas), who may or may not be on their side.

The pompous and savagely evil Cleon the 17th (Lee Pace) relishes his villainy, taking pleasure in any pains he can inflict. His evil is extended to nearly cartoonish levels, always reined in by Lee Pace's uncanny ability to sell himself as The Ultimate Evil. (Let's hope he's not a Method actor.)

On the side of evil, his loyal robot majordomo Demerzel (Laura Birn) breaks Asimov's own Three Laws of Robotics, though her own back story is eventually revealed, lending greater strength to her actions, and even a degree of empathy. Cleon is himself one of three genetic clones; his younger "brother" Dawn (Cassian Bilton) still displays vestiges of innocence and morality, while his older "brother" Dusk (the magnificent Terrance Mann) begins to suspect that everything is not right in the House of Cleon.

Several new characters appear in the balance of the episodes, most notably Queen Sareth (the captivating Ella Rae-Smith in a highly-spirited and moving performance); the commanding General Bel Rios (Ben Daniels, strong, vigorous, and touching); and Tellem (Rachel House, scary powerful), the mysterious leader of a mysterious cult who or or may not be on the side of the protagonists. Whatever she is, she is kindly one moment, cold and calculating the next.

The episodes steadily grow in dramatic power and dynamic tension as they progress in a manner that I found tremendously appealing. Hold on as long as you can, because it all pays off in quite spectacular fashion.

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David S GoyerIsaac AsimovJared HarrisLeah HarveyLee PaceLou Llobell

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